Posts filed under ‘francis ng’

Have You Heard The News? Recent Updates

Nick Cheung Ka-Fei shoots straight, The Beast Stalker, 2009

A few quick updates to some previous posts. Nick Cheung Ka-Fei has just won another Best Actor statue (along with co-winner Huang Bo) for his role in The Beast Stalker, this time at Taiwan’s Golden Horse Awards, which is the fancy-schmancy Chinese-language equivalent of the Oscars. Nick’s been cleaning up lately, award-wise, and can add his latest accolade to the Best Actor trophies he garnered at the 2009 Hong Kong Film Awards and the Hong Kong Film Critics’ Society Awards, as well as nods at a bunch of film festivals.

Nick Cheung & Huang Bo, co-Best Actors, Golden Horse Awards, 2009

Nick is a long-time Hong Kong movie vet who started out as a Stephen Chow Sing-Chi wannabe back in the 90s and who has since evolved into an intense and serious actor, most notably in Johnnie To’s crime dramas Exiled and Election 1 & 2. An interesting sidenote: Nick’s been very up front about his struggle with clinical depression, which is kinda cool in the ultra-image-conscious world of Hong Kong cinema.

Pahole Sookkasikon, Mr. Hyphen 2009

As of a couple weeks ago, my homeboy Pahole Sookkasikon is the newly crowned Mr. Hyphen 2009. Sponsored by Hyphen Magazine, the Asian American publication and website, the competition is more than just a beauty pageant—judges look at the entrants’ commitment to community service and dedication to la causa. However, the contest also includes a talent portion and a sleepwear competition, so it’s not only about righteous public service. Pahole left the opposition in the dust with his awesome talent presentation, a mind-blowing Muy Thai/disco diva mashup. He also nailed the Q&A section, giving props to the Asian American sistas who have inspired him as an Asian American male.

In addition to being an activist and artist, Pahole’s a grad student (and my former TA) in SF State’s Asian American Studies Department. This year’s first runner-up, Tony Douangviseth, is also a former SFSU AAS student, so AAS now has official bragging rights to the two smartest, slickest, most dedicated Asian American males in the Bay Area.

Detail of large poster

Detail of text overlay on poster (concept), Lord, It’s The Samurai, 2009

And asiansart.org, the collective responsible for this summer’s smash hit intervention, Lord, It’s The Samurai, had a little dustup at the deYoung Museum last Friday when they attempted to show artifacts from the project at the museum’s latest Friday night event. Apparently after the group spent most of the afternoon installing its exhibit, at the last minute functionaries from the deYoung severely censored asiansart’s presentation. This took place while the deYoung people were in phone consultation with their counterparts at the Asian Art Museum, which was the hapless target of the original intervention this summer. More details to be found here on their blog, but it sounds like the cabal of museum administrators protected their own interests at the expense of freedom of expression. Not a pretty thing to do to working Asian American artists, especially by an institution that mounted last year’s outstanding show, Asian/American/Modern Art: Shifting Currents. Shame on the deYoung for caving to peer pressure at the expense of provocative and important art—I expected better.

Francis Ng’s jawline, with gun, Fierce West Wind

And once again, just because I can, here’s a picture of Francis Ng looking coy, from his upcoming new cowboy flick, Fierce West Wind (aka Four Fantastic Detectives), directed by Gao Qunshu, which is expected to hit screens all over Asia in spring 2010. Gao’s last effort, The Message, was the box office champ over the National Day weekend in China this past October, and one of its stars, Li Bing Bing, took home the Best Actress crown at this weekend’s Golden Horse Awards. An intense little slice of World War II espionage, The Message features patriotism, backstabbing, intrigue, and a healthy dollop of psychosexual torture, including a couple of excruciating scenes of forceful coercion with a smiling and sinister acupuncturist named Mr. Six. It also introduced me to a new favorite actor, the smoking hot Zhang Hanyu, who plays a soldier turned spy. Looking forward to seeing his award-winning turn in Assembly, which should arrive on my doorstep any day now.

Zhang Hanyu burns it up

UPDATE: Pahole Sookkasikon has gone viral in an interview published by the Associated Press about Mr. Hyphen, community service, and Asian American masculinity. Go Pahi!



UPDATE 2: Here’s a video of Pahole’s talent presentation at Mr. Hyphen, which combines Thai martial arts, disco disco, and The Real Housewives of Atlanta. To see Pahole’s amusing introduction go here.

November 29, 2009 at 7:36 am 7 comments

What We All Want: Milestones, Smut, and Shahrukh Khan

Best-Actor-Shahrukh-Khan-1

SRK forgets to wear a shirt

Holy cow! After less than a year of existence this blog reached  100,000 hits this week. Coincidentally, this week also marked Shahrukh Khan’s 44th birthday, which is only significant because SRK is one of the main reasons for the healthy traffic on this site. Along with fellow semi-naked movie star Edison Chen, SRK’s posts have received fully one-quarter of the total visits to this blog. Nothing like a little celebrity skin to draw an audience–

Interestingly enough, the next-most-popular posts are about the Star Trek reboot and the Tiananmen Square tank man, so it’s not just thrill-seekers stopping by. Other popular search topics are fairly diverse, including Kinatay, Brillante Mendoza’s controversial new flick, asiansartmuseum’s parody website Lord, It’s The Samurai, the late Pinoy poet Al Robles, and President Obama’s brother-in-law Konrad Ng.

bobo-chan-edison-chen-pics

Good friends Edison Chen & Bobo Chun, naked, 2007

But the double-barreled combination of a starkers Badshaah of Bollywood and Edison Chen’s sexual escapades are the all-time hit kings here on this site. Considering the popularity of on-line porn, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that people would be so fascinated with looking at their favorite actors in the altogether. When I started blogging it wasn’t my intention to be a way station for pictures of bare-assed Asian movie stars, and I don’t think I’ve catered to that need too flagrantly, but I’ll take the traffic however it comes.

Probably only a fraction of the flesh-seekers explore the site any further but I’d like to think that I’ve lured a couple unwary readers into my clutches with promises of semi-nude celebrities, then pried open their brains and poured in some radical knowledge. For me one of the great joys of blogging is throwing my random thoughts up on the web, without knowing how they’ll be received or who’s going to come across them, then seeing how they play out. I have to say that I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.

west wind francis ng

There's a new sheriff in town, Francis Ng, Fierce West Wind, 2010

PS: Just because I can, here’s a nice picture of Francis Ng in his upcoming movie Fierce West Wind. He plays a bounty hunter in what looks like a classic Eastern Western. Cowboy Francis! Be still, my heart–

November 6, 2009 at 1:26 am 6 comments

Constant Sorrow: Tracing Shadow film review

Francis Ng contemplates filmmaking, Tracing Shadow, 2009

Francis Ng contemplates filmmaking, Tracing Shadow, 2009

Dear Francis,

Just wanted to let you know that I saw your new movie, Tracing Shadow, and I’m sorry to say that I didn’t really like it very much. Although it had some killer martial arts sequences, the art direction was divine, and you yourself looked quite lovely in your braided hair extensions and little mustache, the movie as a whole really stank. Unfortunately, since you’re the director as well as the star of the film, there’s no one else to blame for the slipshod pacing, unimaginative blocking and framing, egregious mugging and overacting (Xie Na being the absolute worst offender on that account), and aggravating, abrupt shifts in tone and mood throughout the movie. You yourself put in a less-than-thrilling performance, which I didn’t think you were capable of doing. And both you and your love interest, Pace Wu, have really nice cheekbones, but there isn’t a whole lot of chemistry between the two of you otherwise.

Pace Wu and bone structure, Tracing Shadow, 2009

Pace Wu and bone structure, Tracing Shadow, 2009

Ever since it was announced several months ago I’ve been looking forward to this film, since you’re my favorite actor and your last wuxia movie, The White Dragon, is a great little flick. But somewhere along the way something went terribly wrong. It’s a shame, since the movie has the bones of a much better film. The storyline is classically drawn, with martial-arts masters converging on a village in search of a lost treasure map. But the film’s execution is so off-kilter and confused that it feels bad regional theater. At times it seemed like two or three different pictures competing for screen time—the slapstick comedy, the martial-arts action film, the dramatic mystery—with none given enough time or attention to cohere successfully. I felt myself wishing that you’d stuck to a straight-ahead dramatic treatment of the material, ala the film’s supposed inspiration, King Hu’s classic Dragon Inn, instead of using the story for laughs.

Your past directorial efforts, although flawed, showed flashes of brilliance and promise. But all three of your other movies were small-scale affairs rather than big-budget extravaganzas like Tracing Shadow. 9413 was an intense crime drama that showed a feel for mood and intensity as well as some cinematic chops. What Is A Good Teacher brought out some good, quirky moments from its youthful cast. Dancing Lion had some great improvisational set pieces. But all of those also had top-drawer actors, yourself included, to move things along, whereas the cast of Tracing Shadow–a TV show hostess, a model, and the son of a famous man–is, to put it delicately, pretty weak.

Xie Na and Jaycee Chan mug for the camera, Tracing Shadow, 2009

Xie Na and Jaycee Chan mug for the camera, Tracing Shadow, 2009

I’m truly sorry that the film turned out so badly. I really wanted you to achieve your dream of directing a successful movie. I don’t know exactly why things went so wrong–I’m not sure if it was the strain of holding together a big-budget costume picture, the complexity of mixing so many genres, or the pressure of living up to the hype of a high-profile project. I wonder if there was pressure from your financial backers (Huayi Brothers) to make the film as accessible, i.e., lowbrow, as possible, too, or if that decision was yours. At any rate, I hope that you get another chance to direct a film and that you’re more successful next time. This time I’m afraid you lost your way.

Sincerely,

your biggest fan

Anthony Wong & Francis Ng in happier times, Laughing Gor: Turning Point, 2009

Anthony Wong with Francis Ng in happier times, Laughing Gor: Turning Point, 2009

PS: Congratulations on Laughing Gor: Turning Point—I’ve heard that it’s really good and that it’s doing great box office, too, which hopefully takes some of the sting out of Tracing Shadow’s disappointing ticket sales.

UPDATE: Go here for a much nicer, more positive review of the movie.

September 14, 2009 at 6:14 am 15 comments

Kinda Like A Big Deal: The Beast Stalker, Full Alert and Greatness in Hong Kong Movies

Nick Cheung with wonky eye, The Beast Stalker, 2009

Nick Cheung and wonky eye, The Beast Stalker, 2008

Just saw The Beast Stalker (Dante Lam, 2008) at the San Francisco International Film Festival and, although it held up pretty well and wasn’t an embarrassment, it wasn’t quite all that. Introduced by the Film Festival as “perhaps the best Hong Kong action film since Johnnie To’s Election,” this gritty thriller demonstrates that the former Crown Colony can still crank out hard-ass crime dramas. But the field has been mighty thin in Hong Kong of late and in other, more fruitful years, The Beast Stalker might’ve been just one of the crowd.

Former teen heartthrob Nicolas Tse plays a tough cop (!) haunted by the death of a child hostage he accidentally kills in a chaotic shootout/car crash involving malevolent gangsters, innocent bystanders and much shattered glass. Nick Cheung plays a kidnapper-for-hire in charge of snatching the dead girl’s twin sister whose lawyer mother is involved in prosecuting the crime. Their meshing stories play out in a dizzying spiral of guilt, honor, fate and obligation.

The Beast Stalker has several full-on child-in-extreme-danger moments and the cast realistically sports facial scars and other mementos of mortal peril, but somehow the film falls short of greatness. Nic Tse, further distancing himself from his youthful idol years, shrieks angrily at his subordinates, but he still can’t nail the crying scenes. Likewise, Nick Cheung, who won Best Actor statues from both the Hong Kong Film Critics’ Association and the Hong Kong Film Awards for this role, glowers menacingly but doesn’t quite bring the extra layer of pathos and complexity that might have deepened his portrayal. As my pal Laura, aka redbean, aka longtime Hong Kong movie fanatic, noted, “Anthony Wong would’ve eaten this role alive.” Unfortunately Anthony wasn’t cast and in this case Nick Cheung only makes a so-so substitute.

Lau Ching-Wan shoots straight, Full Alert, 1997

Lau Ching-Wan shoots straight, Full Alert, 1997

I recently purchased a copy of Ringo Lam’s brilliant crime thriller Full Alert (1997), which bears some similarities to The Beast Stalker in its depiction of the complex relationship between a cop and a criminal. But Full Alert has the inestimable actors Lau Ching-Wan and Francis Ng in the lead roles and their sublime skills breathe life into their stock characters and make the film’s cat-and-mouse story vibrant and believable. Francis brilliantly creates a strangely sympathetic yet reprehensible character and Lau Ching-Wan’s finely tuned fits of anger and frustration show a cop dangerously on the edge of sanity. The final confrontation between these two driven characters beautifully brings their fraught relationship to a stunning conclusion. On the other hand, The Beast Stalker’s antagonistic pair never fully reach the heights suggested by their intertwined destinies and their anticipated showdown is merely a tease.

Nick & Nic mix it up, The Beast Stalker, 2008

Nick & Nic mix it up, The Beast Stalker, 2008

Full Alert and The Beast Stalker both have magnificent car chases as their centerpieces, the work of car-choreography specialist Bruce Law. The action direction in The Beast Stalker, however, unfortunately succumbs to the closeups and nausea-inducing jerky camerawork now in fashion, whereas Ringo Lam understood the need for distance and framing in an action sequence. Attesting to its greatness, Full Alert more than stands the test of repeated viewings, even more than a decade after its release. The Beast Stalker is a exciting, smartly-made movie but if, as several critics have suggested, this is one of the best of recent Hong Kong films, then the bar has been seriously lowered.

Dante Lam will soon have another chance to make a great Hong Kong movie. His next project, Most Wanted Terrorist, has just announced its cast, which includes the dream team of Lau Ching-Wan, Anthony Wong and Francis Ng, along with Nick Cheung. Hopefully Nick Cheung can keep pace with his illustrious co-stars, as they’re widely held to be among the best actors of their generation. He did just fine opposite Anthony and Francis in Exiled, and even in The Beast Stalker he showed glimmers of potential. but if he’s not careful the rest of the cast is going to blow him out of the water.

Interestingly, Dante Lam has indicated that he will forgo any Mainland Chinese financing for Most Wanted Terrorist in order to preserve a Hong Kong sensibility in the film. Several recent HK/China co-productions, including Sammi Cheng’s recent Lady Cop and Papa Crook, have suffered from the restrictions of Mainland film censors, so Lam’s decision to avoid PRC money is an interesting one. With Hong Kong film financing languishing due to the economic recession it’s a bold and risky move, but Lam is determined to retain his artistic freedom without having to answer to the Mainland government.

Let’s hope Most Wanted Terrorist gives everyone involved the chance to strut their stuff to their fullest capabilities. With its killer cast and seasoned director, if all goes well, we could once again see greatness in Hong Kong films next year.

The Beast Stalker opens Friday, May 15 at one of the last places in the Bay Area to see Hong Kong movies on the big screen, the 4-Star Theater, 23rd Avenue and Clement Street, San Francisco.

May 15, 2009 at 5:40 am 2 comments

Triumph In The Skies: A Different Kind of Tension

Francis Ng gazes soulfully, Triumph In The Skies, 2003

Francis Ng gazes soulfully, Triumph In The Skies, 2003

Gotta say that, despite myself, I really liked this series. It’s one of the most popular dramas ever made in Hong Kong and it made stars out of several of its younger cast members (notably the Solar 4 or S4—Bosco Wong, Sammul Chan, Ron Ng and Kenneth Ma) when it was first aired back in 2003. But it also made Francis Ng into a major idol, which, although he’d won acting awards and starred in many HK movies, he’d never been before in his home territory. His role as Sam Tong, the principled and upstanding pilot of the fictional Solar Airways, was a killer star vehicle for him and allowed him to showcase his great dramatic range to a hometown audience who had been mostly “meh” to the idea of him as a heroic figure.

The show is pretty expensive by TVB standards, with location shoots in Italy, Japan, and Australia, and has a huge and fairly decent cast including TVB queen Flora Chan as well as Francis as star-crossed lovers. Cinematography, art direction, lighting, and direction are all solid and the storyline isn’t too cringeful, although of course there are classic melodramatic moments including several hospital and near-death scenes, many love triangles, and various other common soapy contrivances. But a lot of the show concentrates on the professional training of airline pilots, which is presented in a surprisingly gripping manner and is deftly interwoven with the crisscrossing romantic storylines.

Fly me, Triumph In The Skies, 2003

Fly me, Triumph In The Skies, 2003

The plot revolves around the lives of various people working for Solar Airways in Hong Kong’s International Airport, including pilots, flight attendants, and ground crews. Sam (Francis Ng) and Belle (Flora Chan), the main characters, meet by chance in Rome and, after chasing through the city in a series of coincidental meetings, hook up and have hot (off-screen) sex. But a plot contrivance drives them apart and the next time they see each other Belle is dating Sam’s best friend and fellow pilot Vincent (Joe Ma). The rest of the series pretty much follows Sam and Belle’s attempts to resolve the mess of their relationship and their unrequited desire for each other.

Francis & Flora get jiggy, Triumph In The Skies, 2003

Flora & Francis get friendly, Triumph In The Skies, 2003

Francis Ng puts in an amazingly disciplined performance—he sustains his character over the course of 40 one-hour episodes and actually shows a believable growth and change, while remaining true to the character’s organic persona. He also proves that he can convincingly play a romantic lead and it’s difficult to imagine that this is the same performer who tore up the scenery playing hard-ass killers in movies like The Mission, Exiled, and Young And Dangerous. The character of Sam could have been an insufferable, controlling bore but Francis makes him intriguing, sympathetic and ultimately loveable despite his restrained personality. This is most evident in Sam’s relationship with Zoe, the younger woman who chases after him and eventually wins his affections. In the hands of a less skillful actor this May-December relationship could have gone horribly wrong but Francis convincingly moves from a reluctant target of Zoe’s affection to gradually becoming a willing partner in the relationship. The show also directly addresses the fifteen-year age difference between the two characters, with running commentary throughout the series on the difficulties of this seemingly mismatched pair finding harmony.

Francis makes Myolie into a decent actor, Triumph In The Skies, 2003

Francis makes Myolie into a decent actor, Triumph In The Skies, 2003

At some point the series basically becomes The Francis Ng Show, with long stretches of the plot devoted to his character’s activities. But it’s a credit to the screenwriters that when the focus shifts to other characters and their storylines the show remains engaging. Francis is clearly the best actor in the program but for the most part the rest of the cast holds up pretty well to his star-power and acting chops. He has an uncanny knack for intently listening to and playing off of his fellow actors, elevating and enhancing their performances by his subtle and effective responses. This almost seems to make the other actors get better as the show progresses, as they rise to the occasion of working with a truly talented performer. Ron Ng, one of the young turks who became a star after appearing in this show, starts out the series as a stilted and wooden performer. By the end of the series he’s learned some skills and exudes a decent amount of on-screen presence. Likewise, Myolie Wu as Zoe, one of Francis Ng’s love interests, begins the show by ceaselessly mugging and overacting her ingénue role–by the series’ end she’s become a much more nuanced and affecting performer. Her concluding scenes with Francis are fairly moving and I can’t help but think that she learned something by working with him. Francis gets to cry a few times, too, which he does with absolute conviction.

There is also an absolutely fabulous cameo by veteran HK actress Helen Law Lan, who was so great in Bullets Over Summer, as a complaining customer of Solar Airways. She and Francis have a couple divine scenes together which showcase their sublime comic timing and acting skills. Young and Dangerous fans will also spot Jerry Lamb, aka Piggy, who is very good in a supporting role.

Little Francis happy at last, Triumph In The Skies, 2003

Little Francis happy at last, Triumph In The Skies, 2003

SPOILER: Francis also gets the opportunity to be happy at the end of this show, and his joyous smiles at the program’s climax made me realize a couple things: a.) he’s got a really nice smile, and b.) I really can’t think of any movies I’ve seen him in where he gets to be genuinely joyful. I’ve seen at least fifty Francis Ng flicks by now and most of them are dark, violent crime dramas where he comes to a bad end. Even the ones where he doesn’t die don’t necessarily end happily (see The Mission; A War Named Desire; A Gambler’s Story). His comedies are a different story, but even so, being in a funny movie doesn’t necessarily mean that you get to be happy. I’m actually getting a little tired of seeing Francis die or be tormented at the end of movies and I definitely don’t want to watch any more movies where he’s the bad guy. Thankfully, he seems to be through with playing villains, though I suspect he’ll die in a few more of his films in the future. So it was great in TITS when he not only survives but lives happily ever after, and he gets to flash his beautiful, happy smile. END OF SPOILER

Follow your destiny, Triumph In The Skies, 2003

Follow your destiny, Triumph In The Skies, 2003

Strangely enough, the show also addresses, in a soap-opera fashion, the tensions between destiny and free will, delivering a surprisingly cogent and deeply felt commentary on the subject. It was interesting to find thoughtful observations on fatalism versus self-determination in a pop culture production but this was one of the strongest themes running through the show. One of the show’s characters, Belle, believes that life and love are preordained, but it is only through her attempts to take control of her life that she can save herself from despair. Another character, Zoe, feels that she can wrest control of her destiny through the sheer force of her will, but she has to give up control and surrender to her fate before her ultimate triumph. Sam, the character caught between them, is agnostic and rational but he too learns to balance between steering his own life’s path and giving in to forces beyond his control. Not only that but the show also has no real villain to speak of. Instead the characters struggle against their own inner demons and conflicts, and in the end most of them make choices that show honor and growth. This is a refreshing change of pace and, along with the show’s examination of fate and destiny, adds another level of pleasure to the viewing of the program that elevates it beyond the typical television drama.

Apparently audiences throughout Asia felt similarly enthusiastic about Triumph In The Skies. In its first broadcast in Hong Kong in 2003 it had more than a 35% share throughout the run of the series, meaning that more than one-third of all households watching television at the time were tuned in to it when it aired. During its rebroadcast last year in a late-night slot it gained almost a 10% share, nearly unheard of for such a time slot. In most polls it’s consistently rated as the favorite show of Hong Kong television audiences and rumors of a sequel (nixed by most of the cast, including Francis Ng) continue to swirl six years after its debut. It also finally made Francis Ng into a romantic leading man.

Francis and curry puff hairdo, Triumph In The Skies, 2003

Francis and curry puff hairdo, Triumph In The Skies, 2003

NOTE: Francis Ng has a hella weird hairstyle in this show, kind of an asymmetrical pompadour that looks like a throwback to the 1950s crossed with a poodle. It gets a little less absurd and more toned-down as the show progresses but it’s definitely funny to see, especially in contrast to the ultrahip shaggy and dyed-out coifs of the rest of the cast. Of course Francis makes the retro hairdo work, and ultimately it becomes an unspoken commentary on the character’s somewhat anachronistic sense of honor and the way that he’s out of step with many of the other characters in the show. Not surprisingly, Francis purportedly designed the hairstyle himself–

UPDATE: Apparently back in December 2008 TVB put both Ron Ng & Myolie Wu on what they call the “retrenchment” list, which means they’ve moved back from lead to supporting roles. I’m not sure about the specifics but it looks like their fifteen minutes are over. Hasta la vista, baby–

UPDATE 2: For my comments and review of Triumph In The Skies 2 go here.

February 13, 2009 at 9:05 am 4 comments

Quickie fangirl post: teaser trailer for new Francis Ng 吳鎮宇wuxia movie Tracing Shadow 追影

First stills for Chasing Shadow!

Francis Ng & deadly chopsticks, Tracing Shadow 追影, 2009

Just wanted to fire off a fast post about the appearance of a new, very brief teaser trailer (see below) for the upcoming Francis Ng wuxia pic Chasing Shadows. Looks like the movie will be full of the old-school 1990s style wire-fu & special effects that I cut my teeth on back in the day.

The very first Hong Kong movie that I saw long ago at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco was A Chinese Ghost Story, with its amazing action choreography by the great Ching Siu-Tung. His trademark style includes lots of beautiful night photography, swirling fog, gravity-defying synchronized stunt performers, flowing robes, and flying people bounding over rooftops and through forests. He’s the action director for classics including Swordsman 2, New Dragon Inn, and House of Flying Daggers, among many more.

Chasing Shadows, in which Francis Ng not only stars but codirects, with Marco Mak, looks like a throwback to those glorious movies. According to news sources,

“As a form of tribute to past wuxia films, not only does the film contain various well-worn wuxia elements, but it also has the protagonist, his nemesis, and the four exponents named directly, onomatopoeically, metaphorically, in part or combination after the famed wuxia directors: Chang Cheh, Li Han Hsiang, Tsui Hark, Chor Yuen, Sammo Hung, Liu Chia Liang, Tong Gai and King Hu, possibly with some of them doing cameos.”

The movie also stars Jackie Chan’s son Jaycee Chan and Pace Wu. Ching Siu-Tung’s protege, Ma Yuk Sing, is the action choreographer for Chasing Shadows and Ching’s influence is pretty clear in the trailer.

First stills for Chasing Shadow!

The lady in red, Tracing Shadow 追影, 2009

Needless to say, my anticipation meter is off the charts with this one.

UPDATE: According to Twitch, as of late March the film’s title has been altered to “Tracing Shadow 追影,” which I’m not sure I like more than the original. “Chasing” seems a bit more active and dynamic than “tracing,” but I’m not the marketing expert so who am I to say? Looking forward to it at any rate & hoping it rocks.

Here’s the teaser trailer for your viewing pleasure. There’s a very short subliminal of Francis at the very end of the clip fyi.

UPDATE 2: New trailer for Tracing Shadow 追影 below, which lists a July 2009 release date. It’s mostly in Mandarin, except for one cryptic English intertitle that states “kung fu all star,” and seems to be living up to previous reports that the film will be a martial arts comedy. Francis Ng appears briefly about halfway through, getting water thrown in his face, striding across the screen, and later comically twitching his eyebrow. The rest of the trailer heavily features clips of Jaycee Chan, backed by a raucous electric guitar riff, no doubt aiming straight for the lucrative youth market. I’m sure I’m missing lots of other significant information due to my lack of Chinese-language skills–if anyone else wants to fill in the blanks it would be much appreciated.

Director Ng & cast at Tracing Shadow press conference, June 16, 2009

Director Ng & cast at Tracing Shadow 追影 press conference, June 16, 2009

There’s also a lot of information in the Chinese press this week about the launching of the film’s website but the translation I got through google translate gives me a headache so I can offer little insight. But here’s a picture from the press conference. Francis has his hair in the little topknot he seems to have adopted for his role in Laughing Gor, which he’s shooting at the moment.

UPDATE 3: English translation about the press conference here, plus another view of Francis’ topknot.

Happy Francis Ng with topknot, Tracing Shadow press conference, June 2009

Happy Francis with topknot, Tracing Shadow 追影 press conference, June 2009

UPDATE 4: Go here for The Making Of Tracing Shadow 追影. Caveat: it’s on youku.com, the Chinese streaming site, which sometimes loads awfully slow, and the video is all in Mandarin. But it’s got nice behind-the-scenes footage of the movie shoot, with interviews with all of the stars including Francis, Jaycee Chan, and Pace Wu. With the movie being released in just a couple weeks the hype is becoming deafening. Huayi Brothers are obviously banking on this to be a big summer hit and every other day there are more movie stills, interviews, and other fluff about the movie all over the Chinese press. It will be interesting to see the actual box office once the movie’s out.

Tracing Shadow movie poster, July 2009

Tracing Shadow 追影 movie poster, July 2009

UPDATE 5: Here’s the latest Tracing Shadow 追影 poster, and here’s the official website. Navigation is in English, though the movie clips, synopsis and other info are in Chinese. The gallery has tons of stills that showcase the movie’s fancy costumes and art direction, featuring lots of animal furs, elaborate upswept hairdos, and saturated blacks and reds.

twitchfilm.net also has the first English-language review of the film and it’s pretty favorable.

And here’s the cool little music video from the movie—it takes several scenes from the film and incorporates them into a comic-book style layout. The song is Zhui Ying 追影 and the singer is Cong Haonan 丛浩楠.

Francis Ng drowns his sorrows at Laughing Gor: Turning Point premiere

Francis Ng drowns his sorrows at Laughing Gor: Turning Point premiere

UPDATE 6: Alas, despite the massive hype, it looks like Tracing Shadow has tanked at the box office in mainland China. Apparently it went head-to-head with Wong Jing’s latest inane comedy, On His Majesty’s Secret Service, and lost big time–according to NetEase Enterntainment, OHMSS earned over $100 million yuan at the box office, while Tracing Shadow took in a measly $13 million. Not only that, but Wong Jing apparently claimed in an interview that he wasn’t afraid of duking it out with Tracing Shadow because Francis Ng’s earlier directorial efforts (9413; What Is A Good Teacher; and Dancing Lion) also tanked at the box office. Way to rub salt in the wound, dude! It’s especially painful because earlier Francis had predicted that Tracing Shadow would easily take in at least $100 million. No wonder Francis Ng looked so tweaky at the Laughing Gor: Turning Point premiere. He had probably just heard the bad news about ticket sales for Tracing Shadow.

The film opened today (Sept. 2) in Hong Kong to much less fanfare. Wonder if HK audiences will give their homeboy some support or if the movie will die a slow death in the Special Administrative Region as well.

UPDATE 7: Tracing Shadow just hit the torrent streams so that probably spells an end to any theatrical box office. Some commentators on twitter were less than charitable about the film.

tracing shadow is a very indiscriminate mess

tracing shadow is a lousy movie. i’m sad that I spent more than half an hour to get to this conclusion.

watched the film tracing shadow online, download a waste of time, a waste of computer hard-disk space

You know it’s bad when people who watch the movie for free are dissing it.

But Francis might take some comfort in the fact that On His Majesty’s Secret Service also got reamed by the tweeters:

this is really a rare year of lousy movies—tracing shadow and OHMSS are tied.

Strangely enough, Huayi Brothers might not be too fussed about Tracing Shadows less-than-stellar performance. The film presold to several Asian territories, so chances are that HB got its investment back even before it was released.

January 25, 2009 at 11:02 pm 2 comments

One Last Dance revisted

Just rewatched One Last Dance (2005, dir. Max Makowski) last night and liked it much more upon another viewing. It starts a bit slowly but once Francis Ng shows up, playing a world-weary contract killer in nocturnal Singapore, the film’s focus snaps into place and he carries the movie after that. The film’s non-linear narrative is much easier to follow the second time around and, although there are some rough patches in the movie, there are also several pretty interesting moments. Notable among these are a scene in which Francis’s hitman character evades several security cameras at a Singapore train station and an amusing exchange with a prepubescent girl in which she and Francis discuss the meaning of life. Francis also gets into a staring contest (guess who wins?) and, as mentioned in a previous post, has a classic scene in which he extracts information with the help of plastic wrap, scotch tape and a fork.

Francis as a hitman, One Last Dance, 2005

Francis as a hitman, One Last Dance, 2005

The film wraps up its unconventional structure fairly well by the end of the movie and Francis delivers another subtle and nuanced performance that occasionally explodes into swift and efficient violence. There are a few moments of slapstick humor that some Western viewers might find jarring but anyone familiar with the rapid-fire genre-switching found in many Asian films should be able to deal with it. Definitely worth a look.

Francis helps Vivian Hsu with her aim, One Last Dance, 2005

Francis helps Vivian Hsu with her aim, One Last Dance, 2005

Interestingly enough, Brazilian-born director Makowski has been attached to direct a couple Hollywood films on the strength of this picture, though it never received stateside distribution. Makowski’s slated to direct the live-action version of Voltron as well as a big-screen version of the lamentable 1970s television series Kung Fu. Also attached, though his role is yet to be clarified, is none other than Francis Ng. Surely he’s too old play Caine–hopefully they’ll find him a better part than the old blind guy with the pebbles in his hand.

January 1, 2009 at 9:22 am 1 comment

three more francis ng movies

Best to worst

The White Dragon, dir. Wilson Yip, 2004

Francis plays a blind swordsman opposite spoiled and vain rich girl Cecilia Cheung in this 21st century martial arts redux. Full of jokey anachronisms and mo le tau humor, the film is nonetheless affecting due to the charisma and chemistry of the two leads. Francis channels Zatoichi with a twist–he’s a sensitive and noble, lovelorn guy.

Francis with bangs, The White Dragon, 2005

Francis with bangs, The White Dragon, 2005

He also battles a very bad haircut but miraculously manages to become more and more attractive, even though he spends half the film with his eyes rolled up in his head. The scene where he discovers that Cecilia thinks he’s handsome is classic–charming, funny and convincing. Kudos to Cecilia Cheung (who won Best Actress at the HK Film Awards) for keeping her bratty character light and appealing. Wilson Yip continues his schizophrenic directing career, combining wuxia, comedy, romance and satire in classic HK style.

Dancing Lion, dir. Marco Mak & Francis Ng, 2007

Kinda dumb, unfortunately. Sitcom-style humor about a dysfunctional family that starts a lion dancing business and becomes a HK phenomenom. Francis co-directs and stars as a forty-year-old hip hop wannabe dope.

Francis and bling, Dancing Lion, 2007

Francis and bling, Dancing Lion, 2007

Anthony Wong is amazing as a 72-year-old lion dance master–he’s very fun to watch in an otherwise dippy film.

Francis & Anthony in furry pants, Dancing Lion, 2005

Francis & Anthony in furry pants, Dancing Lion, 2007

Himalaya Singh, dir. Wai Kar-Fei, 2005

“Hey, you ever been to India?” “No, why?” “Wanna make a movie there?” “Well, what’s there?” “I dunno, elephants, cobras, yoga.” “Okay, sounds great. Think Francis & Lau Ching Wan will want to go?” “Yeah, and maybe Cecilia.” “Okay, let’s do it.” “And we need to find some Indian guys who can speak Cantonese.”

Cultural insensitivity, HK style, Himalaya Singh, 2006

Cultural insensitivity, HK style, Himalaya Singh, 2005

December 24, 2008 at 9:17 pm 2 comments

The Gory Details: 26 Francis Ng 吳鎮宇 Movies in 4 Weeks

infernal-affairs2

Francis Ng as a naughty triad boss, Infernal Affairs II

In response to some of you who have asked me to elaborate on the 26 Francis Ng movies I watched in four weeks, here are some bullet reviews of them. As a bit of background, many of you know that I’ve got a thing for Hong Kong films and that in 1997 I made an experimental documentary called Beyond Asiaphilia that outlined my love for Chow Yun-Fat, Jet Li and other HK movie kings. At that time I was seeing about 3-4 HK movies a week, almost all in Bay Area movie theaters such as the Great Star, the World, the 4-Star and the UC Theater. All of those but the 4-Star have since shut down and, since the 1997 handover and economic crisis, the HK movie industry is a shadow of its former self. Hong Kong used to produce upwards of 300 films per year–today its output is around 50-100 films.

Francis Ng swaggers into the Golden Horse Awards, 2006

Francis Ng swaggers into the Golden Horse Awards, 2006

Because of this, and because my first daughter was born in 2000, my HK movie viewing declined steeply. I still managed to keep up with the latest Johnny To and Wong Kar-Wai films but most of the HK film scene passed me by.
Hence I was unaware of the rise of Francis Ng as a leading man, which started to take place around 1999 when he won several Best Actor awards for films such as The Mission, Bullets Over Summer, and 2000 AD.

When I was watching HK movies in the mid-nineties, I knew Francis Ng mostly for his quirky character work in movies like Young & Dangerous. Seeing his body of work this month, from films made after 2000, made me realize that he has grown far beyond those roles as an actor and as a movie star.

But apparently what pushed Francis into HK idol stardom was his role in the hit HK television drama Triumph In The Skies, where he played an upstanding, straitlaced airline pilot.

I’m not sure exactly what spurred this past month’s obsessive viewing of so many Francis Ng movies but he’s so good and watchable in almost everything he’s in, and he’s made so many movies, that it wasn’t hard to find several of them to watch.

Wacky Francis and bra, Crazy 'n' the City, 2005

Wacky Francis and bra, Crazy ‘n’ the City, 2005

He’s also grown into his face in the past 10 years and, depending on the movie and the hairstyle, can be ridiculously good-looking or insanely strange.

He’s blessed with a fine, photogenic bone structure, and has a mobile, expressive face and an agile grace that makes him a perfect screen performer.

Cross-eyed Francis, Juliet In Love, 1999

Cross-eyed Francis, Juliet In Love, 1999

His eyes are also just slightly crossed, which adds an odd, somewhat feline quality to his looks.

Viewing note: Some of these films are available on Netflix; many others you can get from the San Francisco Public Library. You can also stream several of them on youtube or on crunchyroll, though the image quality is compromised. Several more are available on Chinese-language streaming sites, but without English subs. You can also find torrent streams galore if that’s your thing.
Statistics: Out of 26 movies viewed
Number of times Francis plays a triad: 13
Number of times Francis plays a cop: 2
Number of movies in which Francis dies: 14
Number of times Francis gets the girl: 10
The best–watch these first.
  1. The Mission–Francis in feral, intense mode. Great movie which also stars Anthony Wong, Roy Cheung, & Lam Suet as hard-guy bodyguards to a timid mob boss.
  2. Exiled–Francis as one of a group of cool hired guns. Reunites most of the cast from The Mission with brilliant director Johnny To.
  3. Infernal Affairs 2–Prequel to Infernal Affairs. One of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time, especially Francis’s amazing, low-key performance as a reluctant Triad boss. Compare this to The Mission and some of Francis’s other OTT performances and you’ll see his fantastic range & versatility.
  4. Juliet In Love–my favorite. A wonderful, emotional, sad and beautiful story. Francis plays a none-too-bright, aimless hoodlum who finds love and redemption from an unlikely source.
  5. Full Alert–Francis as a complex bad guy in a cat & mouse game with Lau Ching Wan. Intense and haunting Ringo Lam movie.

Good:

  1. Too Many Ways To Be #1–weird but fun alternative timeline triad movie.
  2. Shiver–great, naturalistic Francis performance but he’s got terrible orange hair and a pathetic mustache
  3. Bullets Over Summer–Francis as a lonely cop in a subtle and emotional performance. Same director, Wilson Yip, as Juliet In Love.
  4. On The Edge–Francis in a supporting role as a sympathetic triad boss. He could’ve sleepwalked through it but actually puts in a worthy effort
  5. Wo Hu–another Triad boss supporting role–funny & complex
  6. Colour of the Truth–Francis is only in the first ten minutes or so, yet again as Triad boss, but makes a great impression. His scene with Anthony Wong & Lau Ching Wan is a textbook example of incredible ensemble acting.
  7. Love Trilogy–Charming romantic comedy with Francis and Anita Yuen as a bickering married couple. One of the few movies where he doesn’t die horribly.
  8. Fantasia–hilarious HK comedy, with Lau Ching Wan, Jordan Chan, Louis Koo, the Twins, Cecilia Chung & many others. Ridiculous and funny.
  9. Crazy ‘n’ The City–Francis shows his range again as a mentally ill man who falls in love. Bad hair day for him, though.
  10. Young and Dangerous–Ugly Kwan! So funny, especially the growly voice, the bangs, the goatee, and the orange clothes. And so much more fun to watch than the wooden Ekin Cheng. No wonder Kwan got his own spinoff series (Once Upon A Time In Triad Society 1 & 2).

Bad:

  1. Curse of Lola–Francis channels Tony Leung Chi-Wai, but even he can’t save the dreadful & pretentious script.
  2. The Closet–WTF? Wannabe Ring & Ju-On clone. Francis does some neat magic tricks & bonds with a cute kid.
  3. Shamo–another supporting part, this time in an ultraviolent manga adaptation. Francis is cool but the movie is pretty unwatchable. Thank god for fast forward.
  4. Karmic Mah Jong–the only movie I couldn’t finish it was so bad. Pointless & obtuse, and Francis has an especially unflattering haircut in it.

Indifferent:

  1. One Last Dance–A cool Francis performance in a muddled movie. Might be better the second time around. Classic scene with hostages, plastic wrap, scotch tape and a fork.
  2. Bullet & Brain–very dumb Wong Jing movie with funny & cool performances by Francis & Anthony Wong. Watching Francis strut and pose is of course lots of fun (bonus points for also looking very hot doing it). Just fast forward over anything without him or Anthony in it.
  3. Legal Innocence–really really creepy & disturbing Category 3 movie about a gruesome true-crime HK murder involving a love triangle and a body decomposed in acid. Francis is great but unsettling. Cecilia Yip  & Anthony Wong also turn in good performances.
  4. Beauty and the Breast–actually a pretty funny and entertaining movie, if you’re not too demanding. Francis is hilarious as the office lothario who gets his commuppance (hint: it involves prosthetic mammaries). Just try to imagine Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt taking a part like this & you’ll understand what makes HK films special.
  5. Gen-X Cops–Ridiculous film starring popstar prettyboys as undercover cops. Francis lights up the screen as yet another Triad–unfortunately he buys the farm (again) by the middle of the movie, but not before delivering a profane and hilarious final speech, in English, though he obviously didn’t speak the language well at the time. Despite this, he makes it one of the highlights of an otherwise predictable and idiotic movie.
  6. A Man Called Hero–Francis plays a Japanese swordmaster bent on world domination. He has a CGI duel Anthony Wong as a Chinese martial arts sage and as well as a climactic battle with wooden man Ekin Cheng atop the Statue of Liberty (don’t ask).
  7. Deadly Delicious–Francis plays a philandering husband who suffers a horrible revenge from his pissed-off wife. Involves lethal doses of shrimp and other Chinese delicacies.

Yet to see:
A War Named Desire
Bakery Amour
Once Upon A Time in Triad Society 1 & 2
HK Triad
The White Dragon
Dancing Lion

December 19, 2008 at 2:50 am 15 comments

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